Machines are on the rise in the Los Lunas Schools, but instead of ousting humanity, they will help oust COVID-19.
Two new self-driving robots, tasked with disinfecting both the Los Lunas and Valencia high schools were deployed on the campuses earlier this month.
“We strategically selected Los Lunas High and Valencia High; they are our largest campuses,” said Claire Ciermans, LLS chief financial officer. “They also house the largest population of students and staff, and, unfortunately, have some widespread COVID issues that have gone on.”
The machines, created by Albuquerque-based Build with Robots, were programmed to learn pathways throughout the school, essentially creating a 2-D floor plan of the space before being able to isolate individual areas.
Ciermans said the machines will not only help to address the spread of all viruses, but also require less people and time to disinfect.
“They’ll be maneuvering their way throughout the campus, disinfecting rooms at a really fast rate,” she said. “So, we talked about a shortage of staff due to the continual spread of COVID — these are two issues we were pretty strategic to try to go after and help the situation.”
The robots are able to disinfect 100,000 square feet area in one and half hours.
“We’re really on an island of our own as far as robots and disinfection. Part of what we’re doing, there are things with UV, but what we are doing by fogging, it’s science backed,” said Xavier Lemon, Build with Robots director of commercialization. “We do efficacy testing everywhere we deploy.”
In addition to Los Lunas Schools, Build with Robots also contracts with the Albuquerque Sunport, St. Mary’s Catholic School in Albuquerque, Turquoise Trail Charter in Santa, and is currently in conversation with several other small school districts.
Los Lunas Schools is the largest district in the state to enlist the help of Build with Robots to mitigate the spread of not only the COVID-19 virus, but also other viruses which commonly make their way through schools.
As they trek throughout the campus, the robots will spray a special disinfectant designed with lightweight particles made to hang in the air, infiltrate HVAC systems, and get into nooks, crannies and other hard-to-clean spaces.
Breezy Biocare, the specialized fogging disinfectant utilized by the robots and created by Sandia Labs is both EPA N-List — a list of disinfectants proven to kill strains and variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus — and Green Clean certified.
“It has to be something that is safe because here, we are at the high school where high-schoolers have a good idea, ‘Hey, don’t touch that,’ but we’re also in elementary schools,” Lemon said. “So, it’s hugely important the chemical is something that’s safe, but also effective.”
The district will equip their rapid response team with two handheld disinfectant devices, able to disinfect the size of a classroom as needed across all their school sites. The handheld devices are not yet in use as the district is working to fully staff the team who will be using the devices.
Lemon praised this use of the handheld devices, saying no other school district was using them in this way. He believes this is one way to target the spread of the virus in schools.
“This is one example of many mitigating efforts that we have to be able to reduce the risk of COVID,” said LLS Superintendent Arsenio Romero. “We have learned over time how quickly and efficiently we clean our classrooms and learning spaces. This is just going to add to that.”
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history.